Written by Carly Hanson | Photos by Christopher Gannon
June 13, 2023
On the second morning of orientation, advisors across campus each meet with dozens of students to discuss majors and help them register for fall classes. Inside talked with four staff members about this June experience.
The individual conversations are really valuable in terms of understanding where a student's head is at as they begin this process.
Ben Chamberlain, academic advisor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Longtime advisor makes belonging a priority
An academic advisor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) for 12 years and recipient of the university's 2022 Academic Advising Impact Award, Ben Chamberlain said belonging is a huge part of the conversation when advisors first meet with their students. Chamberlain and his colleagues enter notes into ISU Navigate, the coordinated care network, during June meetings to serve as reminders of student concerns when they return in August.
"Many of our students come from very small communities, and we have a growing number of out-of-state students as well as those with other transitional challenges," Chamberlain said. "The individual conversations are really valuable in terms of understanding where a student's head is at as they begin this process."
In Chamberlain's department, academic advisors collaborate with peer mentors to help students register for classes. After discussing their major and developing a list of courses with their advisor, students work with peer mentors to build their schedules. Chamberlain said working with the peer mentors, who are part of the college's learning communities, gives advisors more time to focus on big-picture topics during one-on-one meetings and offers peer mentors an opportunity to share their experiences and wisdom with incoming Cyclones.
After over a decade of advising, Chamberlain said the students' energy is his favorite part of orientation.
"As an alum of the university, it takes me back to when I was a freshman and remembering that time in my life and the excitement of it," he said. "It's fun to see the growth that happens along the way. You hope you'll get to shake their hand at graduation four years from now."
We want to make it feel as small as possible so students don't feel like a number when they come here.
Katy Heineman, student services specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Personalized connections begin a smooth transition
Katy Heineman, whose team received a 2023 Dean’s Citation for Extraordinary Contributions to CALS, acts as a liaison to university admissions, new student programs and student support offices to coordinate recruitment and orientation for the college. During the recruitment process, her team connects with students, especially those who are undecided, to learn about their interests and recommend a major ahead of their advisor meeting at orientation.
"It's really nice having these partnerships and collaborating with our advisors in CALS. I can discuss major options with a student based on their career goals, and the advisor would be the person digging deep into the nitty gritty stuff, making a four-year plan and registering them for classes," Heineman said.
Advising approaches differ across departments depending on program sizes, but creating a personalized experience is a priority for group and individual appointments. Heineman said their goal is to connect students with an advisor or student services staff member.
"We want to make it feel as small as possible so students don't feel like a number when they come here," she said. "We focus on personalized one-on-one connection so students receive individualized attention and have a really smooth transition."
Heineman, who's been with CALS since 2019, said seeing students on the first day of classes makes the extra effort to foster those relationships worth it, particularly with students she and the recruitment staff have known throughout their high school years.
"Now that I've been in CALS a few years, I'm starting to get siblings of students we've recruited. Parents will reach out about how we helped their older son and ask if we could arrange a visit for their daughter now," she said. "That's a really cool part of the recruitment-to-orientation connection. This work is built on those relationships."
They want to be at ISU, they chose it for a reason. They look forward to being here and that's why we do what we do as advisors.
Tyler Schoh, academic advisor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication
Building a relationship to last
"I like to say orientation is the best kind of busy," said Tyler Schoh, an academic advisor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication and recipient of the 2023 LAS Professional and Scientific Outstanding New Professional Award. "It's exciting to show students what we have to offer and let them know there's someone in their corner whenever they have questions."
Schoh said that connection is just as important for transfer students. While transfer students typically bring in more credits and have a general idea of how college works, advisors start from scratch with freshmen who may not even know what an academic advisor is.
"We're like, 'Hi, I'm an academic advisor and that might sound like a weird title but what you need to know is that I'm here to help you navigate college,'" Schoh said. "It's nice to introduce ourselves and tell students how we can help them find their communities."
Whether they're meeting for the first time at orientation or have had the opportunity to talk previously on a visit, Schoh said connecting with prospective and incoming students one-on-one is a testament to the great work done by the recruitment team and Iowa State's approach to building relationships.
"Cultivating that relationship early on is important so students know they have someone to turn to once they get to campus," he said. "They want to be at ISU, they chose it for a reason. They look forward to being here and that's why we do what we do as advisors."
You want to give the people coming to the first orientation session and the last orientation session the same experience. We want to see them do well.
Ashley Morton, academic advisor in the College of Engineering
Preparing students and advisors for the next step
This month's orientation is the 10th for College of Engineering academic advisor Ashley Morton. In addition to back-to-back meetings with incoming undeclared Engineering students, Morton also supervises Engineering's Cyclone Aides, the college ambassadors who serve as orientation assistants, and trains around 40 Engineering advisors ahead of orientation, offering guidance and advice with the help of a 100+ page manual she created for the annual occasion.
"The manual is everything an advisor could need to know, from what classes to put students in, what resources are available and how to use our various systems," said Morton, who received the college's Innovation and Exceptional Advising During COVID Award in 2022. "I teach them how to prepare for an orientation appointment, how to advise during the appointment and what happens next."
After the advisors have been readied, it's the students who need preparing for the next chapter in their lives. Morton said she spends the first few minutes of each of her appointments trying to put students at ease while they process the information received at orientation and begin the change from high school to college. It's a big conversation, she said, but ultimately the goal is for the student to be successful.
"It's a big crazy event," she said. "You want to give the people coming to the first orientation session and the last orientation session the same experience. We want to see them do well."